Reverse Procrastination – Use your natural tendency to procrastinate to train yourself to become productive and focused.
Procrastination is when you tell yourself, “I’ll just play one more game of solitaire and then I’ll get started writing my paper.” Then – surprise, surprise – when you never get around to doing the paper you call yourself a “lazy bum” and beat yourself up for the rest of the night.
Reverse Procrastination is when you tell yourself, “A-little-work-before-a-little-play… I’ll just spend a couple of minutes getting started on my paper and then I’ll reward myself with a game of solitaire.” As soon as you do your 2 minutes – even if it is only coming up with the title or just getting the articles you need to read in one place – you tell yourself “good job”, give yourself a thumbs up and go ahead and enjoy your guilt-free solitaire game.
This may seem too simple to work but if you give it a try I think you will be amazed at how much of a difference it can make. The reason that it works is the same reason that dog owners around the world use treat training to teach tricks to man’s best friend. Here is the psychological science behind it:
Have you ever tried to train a dog to do a trick – to sit, shake hands or lay down? Well, there is a whole science to how to do this, there are rules that every successful dog trainer uses and if you follow the rules you will almost always succeed and if you don’t you will never succeed. Put simply, the rules are:
- Direction – Say “Sit” – You give them the command.
- Prompt – You encourage the dog to do something close to what you want her to do. If you want them to sit you can push down on their rear end.
- Praise – You say good girl or some other signal of your approval.
- Reward – You give them a treat.
You do this over and over again until the dog realizes that every time she sits right after you say the word ‘sit’ that she will get a treat. Later you can gradually stop giving her treats, giving it to her every other time, then every third time and so on as she starts to do it just for the reward of you saying “good girl.”
These are the time-honored rules of treat training. In order for them to work, they must be followed in this exact order or THEY WILL NOT WORK AT ALL.
For instance, if you give the treat one second before they sit no dog in the world will learn the behavior. Most people don’t make this error, they realize that the treat has to come after. If you give it one second after it will work wonderfully. The good feeling the dog gets from the treat travels back in time and makes anything in the recent past positive, so giving the treat right after gives a positive feeling about sitting and hearing, “good girl.” Many people do make the error of giving the treat and then saying “good girl.” When you do this you will always have to give the treat to maintain the behavior because “good girl” never gets infused with a positive feeling. Your praise will only feel like praise to your dog when it comes just before the treat.
So how does this apply to procrastination?
What do you think would happen if you tried to train your dog to sit by giving her a treat, then telling her to sit and then when she ignores you yelling “bad dog” and swatting her on her bottom? I don’t think anyone has ever tried to do it that way because we all know intuitively that it will never work, you just end up with a dog that doesn’t know how to sit but works really hard to avoid you as much as possible. This is exactly what you do to yourself when you procrastinate by playing solitaire before trying to write your paper and then calling yourself lazy and beating yourself up.
Reverse procrastination is just using the treat training rules on yourself:
- Direction – A-little-work-before-a-little-play.
- Prompt – 2 minutes of paper writing.
- Praise – “Good Job” – Thumbs up.
- Reward – Solitaire!
Keep doing this in the right order and you will treat train yourself to sit down and write that paper in no time. Even better, each time you practice, the good feeling from the solitaire will seep back into the paper writing so you will find it easier and easier to do it. Once you get started on your paper if you want to go longer than 2 minutes – go for it. The only important thing is that as soon as you are done, tell yourself, “Good Job”, give yourself a thumbs up and always give yourself the treat.